Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Dissertation: Dhofar Rebellion Part 5

Work continues in earnest on my dissertation. I've been somewhat socially distracted lately - partly by choice, partly under duress - and that's been pulling my attention ever so slightly away from work on my essay. Even so, I've chipped a bit away each day, and got a single really solid day of work in on it last week. I worked on that equation I posted a couple of weeks ago, in great detail, and ended up converting that original list that CN Odin and I came up with into three individual sections: Owning the Human Terrain, Owning the Physical Terrain, and what I'm calling Integrating Factors. I'll talk about each of these individual categories, and what I'll be saying about them, in subsequent posts about my dissertation.

In early June, I finished reading Arabian Sands. A about a week later, I pulled a series of eight quotes from chapters two and thirteen, then scrawled out the first few words of each on a half note card along with its basic topic. Then, I numbered those note cards, arranged them into a narrative order, and wrote them up into a couple of paragraphs to describe describe southeast Arabia, Oman, and Dhofar during the late 1940's. You can learn more about Wilfred Thesiger and his adventures in southeast Arabia at the following sites: Journey Interrupted: Al Ain, Thesiger, Buraimi, Sohar and Ras al Suwaidi, and Three Views of Oman: Wilfred Thesiger. So, which quotes did I pull? These first few...
"Oman is largely inhabited by the Ibadhis, a sect of the Kharijites who separated themselves from the rest of Islam at the time of Ali, the fourth Caliph, and have been noted ever since for their condemnation of others. The Ibadhis have always maintained that their Imam or religious leader should be elected. The Al bu Said dynasty which ruled Oman from 1744, and to which the present Sultan of Muscat belongs, succeeded, however, in establishing an hereditary succession, but its neglect of the elective principle had always been resented by its subjects. The growth of Omani sea power between 1784 and 1856, overseas conquests, of which Zanzibar was the most important, and especially the removal of the capital from Rustaq to Muscat on the coast, weakened the hold of the Al bu Said rulers over the interior of the country, while foreign treaties and outside interference added to the fanatical resentment of the tribesmen. In 1913 the tribes, both Ghafari and Hanawi, rebelled and elected Salim bin Rashid al Kharusi as their Imam. The Sultan of Muscat rapidly lost all control over the interior and by 1915 the Imam was threatening Muscat. His forces, however, suffered a serious defeat when they attacked a British force outside Matrah. The Imam was murdered in 1920, and Muhammad bin Abdullah al Khalili was then elected. In the same year the Treaty of Sib was signed between the Sultan and the Omani sheikhs, not between the Sultan and the Imam. By this treaty the Sultan agreed not to interfere in the internal affairs of Oman."
- Wilfred Thesiger, "Arabian Sands", pp. 273

* * *

"The present Imam, Muhammad bin Abdullah, was now an old man, a fanatical reactionary and bitterly hostile to the Sultan and to all Europeans. The interior of Oman was consequently more difficult for a European to penetrate in 1948 than it had been when Wellsted went there more than a hundred years before; for both Wellsted and his three successors had travelled under the protection of the Sultans of Muscat who were recognized by the tribes in the interior."
- Wilfred Thesiger, "Arabian Sands", pp. 273-274

* * *

"Zayid, as Shakhbut's representative, controlled six of the villages in Buraimi. The other two acknowledged the Sultan of Muscat as their nominal overlord, as did the tribes who lived in and around the mountains northward from Ibri to the Musandam Peninsula, although in fact this area was independent traibal territory. Ibri itself and the interior of Oman was ruled by the Imam. His authority was strong in the mountains and in all the towns, but was weak among the large and powerful Bedu tribes of the Duru and Wahiba who live on the steppes bordering on the Sands."
- Wilfred Thesiger, "Arabian Sands", pp. 271

* * *

"Each of the Trucial Sheikhs had a band of armed retainers recruited from the tribes, but only Shakhbut had any authority among the tribes themselves, and he maintained this authority by diplomacy, not by force. There was no regular force anywhere on the Trucial Coast nor in Buraimi which could be used to support the authority of the Sheikhs. The Trucial Oman Scouts had not yet been raised, and although the R.A.F. had an aerodrome at Sharja it was only a staging post on the route to India."
- Wilfred Thesiger, "Arabian Sands", pp. 272
... were very helpful in illustrating the state of affairs in the region as a whole during the time of Thesiger's expeditions. Meanwhile, the second set of four demonstrate the state of affairs in Dhofar itself prior to the outbreak of the war.
"Dhaufar belonged to the Sultan of Muscat, and he had insisted, when he allowed the R.A.F. to establish themselves there, that none of them should visit the town or travel anywhere outside the perimeter of the camp unless accompanied by one of his guards, and that none of them should speak to the local inhabitants."
- Wilfred Thesiger, "Arabian Sands", pp. 43

* * *

"About 1877 Dhaufar had been occupied, after centuries of tribal anarchy, by a force belonging to the Sultan of Muscat, but in 1896 the tribes rebelled, surprised the fort that had been built at Salala, and murdered the garrison. It was several months before the Sultan was able to reassert his authority, which, however, has since remained largely nominal except on the plain surrounding the town."
- Wilfred Thesiger, "Arabian Sands", pp. 43

* * *

"It was obvious that, although the Qarra lived only a few miles from Salala, the Sultan of Muscat had little control over them. Arabs rule but do not administer. Their government is intensely individualistic, and is successful or unsuccessful according to the degree of fear and respect which the ruler commands, and his skill in dealing with individual men. Founded on an individual life, their government is impermanent and liable to end in chaos at any moment. To Arab tribesmen this system is comprehensible and acceptable, and its success or failure should not be measured in terms of efficiency and justice as judged by Western standards. To these tribesmen security can be bought to dearly by loss of individual freedom."
- Wilfred Thesiger, "Arabian Sands", pp. 46-47

* * *

"Salala is a small town, little more than a village... When I arrived fishermen were netting sardines, and piles of these fish were drying in the sun. The whole town reeked of their decay. The Sultan's palace, white and dazzling in the strong sunlight, was the most conspicuous building, and clustered around it was the small suq or market, a number of flat-roofed mud-houses, and a labyrinth of mat shelters, fences, and narrow lanes."
- Wilfred Thesiger, "Arabian Sands", pp. 44
The next step is to discuss the early exploitation of oil in Oman and the subsequent Jebel Akhdar War. More on that later. As I've noted before, I can't post actual passages from my paper until it's been submitted through the plagiarism checker, but the quotes shouldn't be a problem. (In fact, I only used a single section of one of those eight paragraphs as an actual blockquote, and used most of them to inform my own writing on the topic of Thesiger's narrative about Oman.)

As it turns out, I'm really fortunate that while I was back home for six months in 2012, I was able to sit in on a course on religion and politics in the modern Middle East taught by one of the history professors whose courses I had taken as an undergraduate. It was in those lectures more than a year ago that I first learned about Thesiger, before subsequently ordering a copy on Amazon. I still remember a warm afternoon last July when I decided to treat myself to a gin and tonic at one of our local brew pubs - obviously not a good indicator of the quality of their beer - while reading Arabian Sands outside on their picnic tables. I'm thrilled to be able to include it in my dissertation, even if it's only for a couple of important paragraphs.

More to come.


  1. Hi - I'm very interested in your dissertation on the Dhofar insurgency (I was there) How can I get a copy when it is published? - Holdfast

    1. Hi, Holdfast. If you can leave me an E-mail address (I'll delete the comment as soon as I see it), I'll send you an E-mail and we can sort something out.